In his first start on the main track, Robert LaPenta's Catholic Boy appeared to relish the dirt as he powered to a 4 3/4-length victory in Saturday's Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Ridden by Manny Franco, the juvenile son of More Than Ready cruised off the pace in mid-pack, then found clear sailing on the far turn to take over at the three-sixteenths pole. The win earns the colt 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and he completed nine furlongs over the fast track in 1:52.50. Trained by Jonathan Thomas and most recently fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf behind Mendelssohn (beaten just 1 1/2 lengths), Catholic Boy was off at 4-1 in the Remsen and defeated the 2-1 favorite Avery Island.
“We were really happy with how he exited the Breeders' Cup and, to us, he galloped out very well in that race and indicated that he wanted more ground,” Thomas said. “The day after that race, he was very lively and looked like he exited well, so knowing that he would get the trip and that there was a direct flight here, we brought him here and were able to get two nice works into him on the dirt [at Belmont Park training track] and he did that well. We came over here quietly confident that he would show us a little something, but we never expected that.”
Catholic Boy broke well from mid-pack, but was shuffled back a bit and stuck three-wide in the first turn behind a wall of horses. In front of him, Bandito, the favorite Avery Island, Millionaire Runner and Vouch all seemed to want the lead. Though Avery Island generally races on the front end, he was hard-held and forced to rate in fourth behind the leading Bandito through fractions of :23.98 and :48.97. Both Millionaire Runner and Vouch stayed close to the pace, while Catholic Boy was still well on the outside down the backstretch in fifth or sixth position, only four lengths off the leaders. Avery Island was between rivals in about fourth.
The field began to compress as they made their way into the far turn, and Millionaire Runner briefly took over the lead. He was overcome by Vouch at the top of the stretch, but Catholic Boy had made the first part of his rally through the turn and drew even with Vouch in the lane. By the three-sixteenths pole Catholic Boy had easily grabbed the lead, and was extending his stride effortlessly toward the wire.
“I just followed the instructions,” Franco said. “The trainer told me to break out of there running and to try and get some position early on into the first turn. The horse put me in a good position and when I called on him to run he just went.”
Catholic Boy crossed the finish line 4 3/4 lengths in front of Avery Island, who did find space to run down the lane but was second best. Vouch fought on to finish third, and Alkhaatam the maiden got up from the back of the field to finish fourth.
“He broke in front and I kind of felt like we had a target on our back and they kind of pushed us coming into the first turn, so I took it upon myself to make the sit back off the horses and he breathed,” Joe Bravo said of beaten favorite Avery Island. “He was behind horses, he took the dirt, he relaxed. He was comfortable. Just waiting for the riders orders. Any time I asked for a little bit, he jumped on the bit, and he was there for me. At the top of the lane, we kicked and he really ran hard. I am more proud for him to come off the pace and come running down the lane then winning wire-to-wire.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III and John D. Fielding, Catholic Boy did not meet his reserve when the bidding stopped at $170,000 in the Keeneland January Sale in 2016. The colt broke his maiden at first asking on the turf at Gulfstream, then shipped to Saratoga for a win in the G3 With Anticipation Stakes. In the Breeders' Cup, Catholic Boy was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths when fourth behind Mendelssohn, closing all the way from ninth in the 14-horse field.
Overall, Catholic Boy boasts a record of three wins from four starts and earnings of over $310,000.
“Early on, he was a turf horse only because there weren't many route races on the dirt,” explained Thomas. “It was kind of a default sort of thing and he actually breezed fine on the turf so now we have a lot of thinking to do. The key to him as that if he gets a route of ground. Obviously, this time of year our preference would be to have a dirt horse this time of year. I think we definitely have to consider his next start being a dirt race for sure and kind of see where he takes us.”
Watch the race replay here:
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